Liza Towell was born into a horse family. Her father, Jack Towell, is a respected hunter coach and trainer who was inducted into the National Show Hunter Hall of Fame. Her mother, Lisa, is the behind-the-scenes person in the family’s business and has a great eye for horses. Her brother Hardin is a grand-prix jumper rider and another brother, Ned, is a fox-hunting enthusiast. Liza herself had countless wins in the pony and junior divisions. She took a little time off to go to college, but by her second year, she couldn’t stay completely away and was back doing a little teaching on the weekends. After college, in what she calls her “graduate school of horses,” she went and worked for several other professionals before returning to the family farm, Finally Farm, in Camden, South Carolina.
In her years as a professional rider, Liza and Brunello have won the USHJA International Hunter Derby Championships three times—in 2013, 2014 and 2015. She is the reigning World Champion Hunter Rider in the Professional division, having won it last fall at The Capital Challenge Horse Show in Maryland, an honor she’s won two other times as well. To learn more about Liza’s winning derby ways, check out her six-part training series “6 Exercises to Nail Your Hunter Derby: Part 1 and Part 2.”
What I love about my podcast discussion with Liza is that when I first spoke with her about doing an episode, she said that while discussing her successes was good, she also wanted to talk about her experiences when things weren’t going so well. This is because she wanted others who might be having trouble in their riding to realize that even the most successful riders have struggled. About midway through our discussion, Liza talks about the time she knew she had a really good shot at winning the USHJA International Hunter Derby Championships with Brunello but instead went off course. “I was quite, quite, quite nervous because I felt like that horse [Brunello] needed to win the derby finals, and I messed up and I jumped the wrong jump in the handy round,” she recalls. “So that was quite devastating. As rider, you really kind of just want to hunker down under a rock and never come out.”
Liza also discusses dealing with show-ring nerves in general. Going into the handy round of the 2015 USHJA International Hunter Derby Championships where she was in the lead, “I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous in my life … . I would actually prefer to be the underdog where I can just go and move up to the top,” she says. “So in schooling area, I remember saying, ‘I just can’t get myself together. I am the only one who can mess this up. Brunello should just go in there without the saddle on and he could win it by himself. I am the only one who can mess this up.’ So I sort of had to talk myself out of that and get back in sync.” Liza’s go-to strategies are breathing techniques and reviewing the course in her mind during the warm-up along with eating well, getting enough rest and carving out some alone time before a big class. For more strategies for a better course, read mental skills coach Tonya Johnston’s article, which includes an interview with Liza, on how great show days take preparation, focus and inspiration.
During the podcast, Liza also speaks on what, as an instructor, she sees students having trouble with in their own rounds and encourages people to focus on the basics—pace, balance and track. She shares how she has maintained her health after being diagnosed with a mild form of epilepsy and how she balances motherhood and a career.
For more on hunter derbies, read “Hunter Derbies: Not just for the elite anymore.”
The Practical Horsemanpodcast with Liza Towell is brought to you by Absorbine, the horse world’s most trusted name for more than 125 years. For all of your needs involving muscles and joints, hoof care, fly control, skin and coats, supplements, and leather-care needs, visit absorbine.com. Look for savings in Absorbine’s special offers section, which you can find by clicking the menu bar in the upper right corner of the home page. You also can find Absorbine on Facebook and Instagram.
About the Practical Horseman Podcast
The Practical Horseman podcast, which runs every other Friday, features conversations with respected riders, industry leaders and horse-care experts to inform, educate and inspire. It is co-hosted by Practical Horseman editors Sandy Oliynyk, Emily Daily and Jocelyn Pierce. The next podcast will be with Canadian Olympian Selena O’Hanlon, and future episodes feature dressage Olympian Ali Brock, eventer Matt Brown and hunter rider Tom Brennan.
Please rate, review and subscribe to the podcast. You can subscribe and listen to our podcast on Apple Podcasts or iTunes, Stitcher and Soundcloud.